Creating Effective Work Instructions: Kyle Shropshire’s “The Error Free Workplace”

The Error Free WorkplaceKyle Shropshire’s The Error Free Workplace explores the significance of well-written instructions and highlights how well-written instructions can contribute to an error free workplace. If you want to reduce workplace errors, this book explains how technical writing can help you achieve your objective.

Errors and Consequences

To commence, the book outlines why some work instructions fail to achieve their purpose. Shropshire outlines the following characteristics of poorly written instructions:

  • Spelling mistakes
  • Grammatical errors
  • Missing steps
  • Incorrect information
  • Hidden information
  • Disorganised collection
  • Missed warnings

Most readers will quickly recognise and correct spelling mistakes. However, Shropshire correctly explains how spelling mistakes cause readers to lose confidence with the instructions they are following and hence, disregard them. Grammar mistakes can prompt the same effect. The subsequent errors listed above may result in procedures not being performed correctly, potential injury to employees, and damage to the work area. Therefore, the importance of well-written workplace instructions cannot be stressed enough. Of course, ensuring that your workplace instructions are free of the above mistakes is not enough to ensure that readers will perform a task correctly, and Shropshire proceeds to highlight further elements of well-written instructions.

Guidelines

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 provide guidelines to format a document, advice on applying a style guide that is appealing to readers, and tips for writing steps required to perform a task. Shropshire suggests applying a framework to instruction lists. A framework will ensure that all sets of instructions look consistent and as a result, readers will feel confident when engaging with instructions. The author makes good recommendations for essential components of instruction manuals, such as page numbers, a table of contents, and lists of figures, abbreviations, and tables, as essential features of instruction manuals. These features enable readers to easily access information they require.

The Error Free Workplace also explains how writers should carefully select font types and sizes. Shropshire describes how these, along with other features such as line spacing, alignment, and white space influence the reader’s ability to read instructions. He even suggests font types and sizes to use. However, one should always consider the formats in which the document will be published, when choosing font type and sizes.

Every technical writer understands how cautions and warnings are crucial elements of instruction manuals because they draw the reader’s attention to potential hazards. Their purpose is to prevent accidents occurring to employees and potential damage to the workplace. Shropshire advises the context in which writers should use such symbols.

Step numbering is another vital component of instruction manuals and the book reveals how step numbering assists readers to perform tasks in a logical manner. To avoid confusion, writers should use short, concise, active sentences when writing instructions. All steps should be reduced to one action. This skill requires great practice, but the result has a dramatic impact on instructions. In my opinion, the most valuable suggestion offered by Shropshire is to include all necessary steps. As the author describes, what some people consider to be a basic instruction is highly subjective. Therefore, to avoid potential accidents and procedures being performed incorrectly, all relevant steps must be included, regardless of how obvious they may appear.

Graphics are a useful aid for readers. Shropshire outlines how images of components involved will assist readers to easily identify elements of the process being performed, and correctly suggests that writers should supply images and graphics when necessary. Shropshire also provides tips for printing that will ensure that the document is appealing to readers.

Shropshire makes some valid points. Applying his suggestions to workplace instructions will assist you to write instructions that are logical, inclusive of all necessary steps, and easy to follow. However, one should be aware that technical writing is a skill that requires training and a lot of practice to perfect.

Review, Review, and Review Again

Before making the instructions available to your colleagues, it is important to review the document to ensure that all steps are outlined correctly and that the document is error-free. To do so, Shropshire appropriately suggests asking an experienced colleague to provide feedback on your instructions. Having implemented any feedback received, Shropshire then recommends that writers should observe colleagues following the instructions while performing a task. Doing so will help you determine whether further editing is required.

The Verdict

Like a set of well-written instructions, The Error Free Workplace is concise and easy to read. There is an interactive element that is beneficial to readers. Shropshire suggests that readers should work on their own version of the ideas discussed in the book. Doing so will enable readers to gain experience writing a well-formatted document. Every chapter includes a conclusion that outlines the most important points discussed in the chapter. A conclusion is also provided at the end of the book, reiterating the crucial details. Therefore, the main points are presented to readers regularly. Overall, The Error Free Workplace is a good introduction to the basics of technical writing if you are a subject matter expert (SME) who occasionally writes documentation. However, if your company’s documentation requirements are more extensive, working with an experienced technical writer would be a better option.

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2 Responses to Creating Effective Work Instructions: Kyle Shropshire’s “The Error Free Workplace”

  1. Marie-Louise FLACKE December 19, 2018 at 5:42 pm #

    When you write “Therefore, to avoid potential accidents and procedures being performed incorrectly, all relevant steps must be included, regardless of how obvious they may appear.” have you got any idea of what the END USER thinks of this quantity of steps? If you are stating the obvious, your user is going to reject your documentation (“hey, this tech’writer thinks I am stupid!…)

    That’s why end-users don’t read documentation !

    • Eoin Cusack
      Eoin Cusack January 3, 2019 at 3:12 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Marie-Louise. In my opinion, it is important that all steps be included with as little wording as possible, to avoid user frustration. Not all users have the same level of experience with a product. Therefore, it is more beneficial to users to include all relevant steps than it is to omit information.

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